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Philadelphia 76ers fans displeased that the team shipped center Nerlens Noel to the Dallas Mavericks before Thursday’s trade deadline, while failing to find a new home for big man Jahlil Okafor despite months and months of rumors, got served another cup of cold coffee on Friday morning.
General manager Bryan Colangelo announced that Ben Simmons, the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NBA draft, will not suit up for the Sixers this season, and will be shut down due to continued complications in his ongoing recovery from surgery to repair a Jones fracture in his right foot:
After undergoing surgery to repair the fracture to the fifth metatarsal in his right foot back in late September, the former LSU standout was expected to be sidelined for about three months. Philly head coach Brett Brown initially pegged Simmons’ return at somewhere around January before walking that back, saying he’d gotten a bit too excited at the possibility of having his prized freshman on the floor.
Simmons continued to work his way back, shedding a walking boot, returning to the floor for non-contact work and eventually reportedly progressing to 5-on-5 drills. His highly anticipated arrival as Philly’s jumbo-sized point forward of the future gave Sixers fans another cause for excitement in a season that’s seen the long-awaited unveiling of Rookie of the Year favorite Joel Embiid and dynamite Croatian forward Dario Saric, who have helped spark an invigorating overall improvement that has the squad entering the final third of the season at 21-35, more wins than they’ve managed in a full campaign in four years.
On Jan. 19, ESPN’s Chris Haynes reported that Simmons’ “foot has completely healed,” and that, while there still remained “the possibility that Simmons sits the entire season,” the 20-year-old Australian playmaker had “a chance to take the hardwood near March.” An alleged “final scan” of the foot came days later, and while the Sixers declined to update Simmons’ timetable, they did suggest he was continuing to heal and progress as expected.
But rumblings began to circulate just before the All-Star break that Simmons might not make his pro debut this season. Philly head coach Brett Brown saying Simmons “is moving forward but it’s at a very slow pace, our pace,” and that “to say that we believe he’s going to be ready for 5-on-5 during the All-Star break would be misleading.”
That update was followed by a report by Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer that the purported “final” CT scan on Jan. 23 showed that Simmons’ injured right foot “was not fully healed,” with an inside portion of the bone not fully mended.
“We continue to monitor the recovery of Ben’s injury and are employing a conservative and thoughtful approach to his rehabilitative program, basing his return to full basketball activity on the advice and direction of medical professionals,” Colangelo said in a Feb. 17 statement. “His next CT scan is scheduled for February 23, after which our medical team will thoroughly review and evaluate his status moving forward. Ben’s long-term health remains our primary concern.”
That scan came Thursday, and the early reports suggested Sixers fans brace for bad news …
… which Colangelo delivered Friday morning, confirming the report that Simmons’ foot isn’t 100 percent ready to go, which has prompted the Sixers to shut him down for the remainder of the season.
“I have always known that there was a desire to get him back on the court when healthy, and we always anticipated there would be an opportunity for him to play this season,” Colangelo told reporters Friday. “But there was always the outside chance it didn’t happen because there wasn’t complete or full healing. We didn’t want to put him at risk for a re-fracture.”
Taking the long view with a 20-year-old dealing with a significant foot injury makes all the sense in the world. If there’s a real chance of re-injury associated with a late-season cameo, then the Sixers have every right and reason to keep Simmons on the sideline until such time as the scans come back clean.
The problem, though, is that they’d already said last month that the scans had come back clean, before Pompey’s report poked holes in that claim and the team started pumping the brakes. And, moreover, that the back-and-forth over Simmons’ foot comes on the heels of eyebrow-raising stuff like Okafor needing more than six months to recover from a surgery the team said would put him out for six weeks.
And the team listing point guard Jerryd Bayless as sidelined by a “sore wrist” for almost two months before bringing him back for three games and then announcing he’d undergo season-ending surgery to repair a torn ligament. And the Sixers more or less being forced by Sixers reporter Derek Bodner to admit that Embiid had suffered a meniscus tear on top of the previously reported bone bruise to his left knee.
These sorts of things make it difficult for a front office to maintain the benefit of the doubt, as Mike Sielski of the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote in a pre-All-Star break column arguing for shutting Simmons down:
For whatever reason — a desire to keep hopes and ticket sales as high as possible, a misunderstanding of a sports market that is forever bubbling and seething over its teams’ fortunes and demands openness and honesty from its athletes and coaches and executives, pure self-interest — the Sixers have created for themselves a crisis of trust. No one believes them anymore. Joel Embiid is fine. Joel Embiid has a bone bruise. Joel Embiid won’t play tomorrow night. Oh, yes, about that torn meniscus. We did know about that, but it wasn’t a big deal. And of course, we expect Ben to play this season. Why wouldn’t we?
They ricochet from closed-mouthed to cryptic, telling Brown only what he needs to know so that he can present a passionate and helpful voice to the public. If Colangelo thought that the same smaller-market measures that he used to control his message in Phoenix and Toronto would work here, he should have learned a lesson from Sam Hinkie’s fall. Sure, Hinkie wouldn’t hop on a talk-radio show to spit out a few cliches for the sake of satisfying the masses — and, most of all, the hosts. But at least he had the forthrightness to make his intentions, the direction he was taking the Sixers, plain from the beginning. At least he had the discipline to keep his player personnel maneuvering in the shadows so that he wouldn’t handicap himself when it was time to strike a trade.
Colangelo has been selectively transparent, a sign that he’s insecure about how he does his job, and when he has spoken and acted frankly, he’s made things harder on himself.
After suffering his knee injury and missing three games, the Sixers allowed Embiid to take the court for a nationally televised game against the Houston Rockets, after which he has not yet returned to the floor, despite the team consistently reporting that he’d only miss a game or two at a time. Embiid, whom the Sixers now say is expected to miss their first four games after the All-Star break, said Thursday that he’s frustrated with how the team has handled the dissemination of information about his injury, according to Tom Moore of The Intelligencer:
“I was told I was going to kind of miss two or three weeks, so I wasn’t happy with the way it was handled,” Embiid said. “I thought keeping my name out there was going to literally have people think about me all the time instead of just saying when I was going to be back. So I’m happy that they did that today and said that I’m out for the next four games.”
Colangelo acknowledged Friday that he should have said Embiid was out “indefinitely” rather than list him as “day-to-day” after learning of the meniscus tear, but insisted that the 76ers haven’t been playing fast and loose with the truth when it comes to the health and well-being of their players.
“There was no effort to deceive fans, deceive the media,” he said. “Injuries are unpredictable.”
Nobody knows that better than Sixers fans, who will now work their way through another campaign in which one of the team’s highly touted imports — from Andrew Bynum, to Noel, to Embiid — fails to take the court during his expected first year with the club.
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